As the 2021 NBA season draws to a conclusion, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the greatest finals in the history of the association. Last year at the end of a disrupted campaign, the LA Lakers overcame the Miami Heat by four games to two to claim the crown.
It was the Lakers’ 17th NBA title overall and that record puts them at the top of the overall winners list. Sharing that mark of 17 wins are the Boston Celtics and those two franchises have dominated the division at certain times.
The Lakers’ 4-2 win over the Heat featured some stunning plays but it was ultimately a comfortable victory for the Los Angeles franchise. The great LeBron James was influential for the Lakers and was rightly handed the MVP award at the end of the series.
However, the 17-time record holders crashed out to the Suns, making the Brooklyn Nets have the favoriteodds to win the NBA championship this year.
There are 8 other teams to consider in those markets but will the 2021 finals series have a chance of emulating the best clashes of all time?
Rockets v Knicks 1994
The 1994 series between the Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks went down to the wire with a seventh game needed to split the teams. As a side issue, the game was billed as a clash between two of the greatest centers to be playing the game at that time.
Olajuwon vs Ewing was the unofficial title for this clash as Hakeem Olajuwon of the Rockets and Patrick Ewing of the Knicks had faced each other for their colleges in the NCAA finals a decade earlier.
The two men played a pivotal role in what many feel was the best NBA finals series of all time. The opening matches were low scoring and evenly split before the Knicks claimed the advantage with a 3-2 lead.
Defense had been key up to this point and the Rockets’ Olajuwon was about to make the most important play of his career. With Houston holding a slender, 86-84 lead at the death, the Rockets’ key center blocked a basket-bound shot from the Knicks’ John Starks.
In the decider, the Rockets ground out another defensive encounter and came through via a 90-84 scoreline. It was their first ever NBA Championship and Olajuwon was rightly named MVP for his effective overall performances.
Warriors v Cavaliers 2016
Everyone loves a comeback but few teams have ever pulled it back from the brink in quite such a dramatic fashion. At 3-1 down after game four, the Cleveland Cavaliers had been effectively written off as they faced up to a Golden State Warriors team who had finished the regular season with a 73-9 record.
Those who were expected to be influential in the finals series had matched up to their pre-game billings with Steph Curry firmly behind every positive Warriors play. Even when Cleveland pulled it back to 3-2, they were very much the underdogs.
It was time for LeBron James to take over and, when the Cavs breezed into an early 31-11 lead in game six, fans started to believe. Draymond Green had returned for GSW after suspension in game five but he was restricted to just eight points. LeBron dominated proceedings, landing 41 points and 11 assists in an emphatic, 115-101 victory.
Green responded in game seven but James was to the fore again, completing the astonishing comeback with 27 points in a narrow, 93-89 victory.
Celtics v Lakers 1966
The 1966 series is slipping from memory and it’s fair to say that many would not describe it as a classic. However, it was a tense set of games and featured the first occasion when a team came back from a 3-1 deficit to force a decider.
The Celtics eventually edged it and the fact that six of the seven games were decided by ten points or less underlines just how competitive this series really was.
Celtics v Lakers 1969
Many of the series on this list have featured low scoring games but that wasn’t the case in 1969. The high-flying Celtics, now coached by legendary former player Bill Russell, were the underdogs but raced into a 2-0 lead in two matches that totalled 468 points.
Boston fought back to claim the next and, in a tense fourth game, a buzzer beating shot from Sam Jones levelled at 2-2. The next two games were shared, leaving the teams to face a decider.
The seventh game was as topsy-turvy as the rest of the series but the turning point came when the Lakers’ Wilt Chamberlain left after too many fouls. Celtics took full advantage and edged a thriller 108-106.
Bulls v Jazz 1998
In 1998, Chicago Bulls ultimately breezed past Utah Jazz by a 4-2 scoreline so there isn’t the drama displayed in other games on this list.
However, the stunning performances of one player make this one of the greatest finals series of all time. Michael Jordan was about to claim his six MVP award in as many finals appearances while his Chicago team would land their sixth title of the 1990s.
During the first five games, MJ averaged 31 points before landing an incredible 45-point return in game six. Debate will continue as to whether Michael Jordan was the G.O.A.T but he certainly signed off in incredible style.